Chimes — a provider of services and support for people with disabilities — is hoping to raise money to purchase a wheelchair van specifically for its enrichment program, which could help numerous people, including 23-year-old Sammy.
“A lot of the people here got jobs in the community. So the van we currently have is going out, taking people to their jobs, and we didn’t have a van available for Sammy and the enrichment programs,” explained Lois Meszaros, director of Behavioral Health and Autism Services for Chimes. “We started a fundraising effort to raise the funds so that Sammy can go out into the community and get used to people.”
Meszaros said that the enrichment program’s goal is not to help participants find employment, but rather to help them learn how to interact in the community.
“We are working with them here to develop behaviors that are acceptable when they’re out in the community,” she explained. “These are folks who may have never had a meal outside of their own home, folks who may never have been to the beach because the behaviors or transportation issues become so complicated.”
Meszaros said that, because of the program and access to the facility’s wheelchair van — though the latter has been infrequent — Sammy has been able to visit the beach, parks and even the SPCA.
“We hope, at some point, to get her to be able to go to a Wal-mart or eat in a McDonald’s. She’s not there yet, but she needs to be able to know the appropriate behavior.”
Such outings would have never been possible if Chimes hadn’t also helped Sammy get much-needed dental work, causing her behavior to improve. Sammy had been attending the Sussex Consortium — a Lewes-based program for children and young adults with special needs, including autism-spectrum disorders, that offers such services as speech and behavioral therapy.
“She came into the program about a year ago from the Consortium. We were having lots of inappropriate behavior problems. We realized after working with her for a while that she was having pain coming from her teeth.”
“If you’ve had a toothache, you know how painful they are,” added Marty Lampner, president and CEO of Chimes International. “If your hurt your arm, you can rub your arm. With a toothache, there isn’t much you can do. And when you’re dealing with someone whose cognitive skills aren’t as sharp as someone else’s, there’s no explaining that it’s not anything you can help.”
As Sammy’s family was unable to pay for the dental work, Chimes stepped in and helped cover the medical costs.
“It’s complicated… Her family didn’t have the money to pay for it. On the other hand, their income was just high enough that she wasn’t eligible for Medicaid, and they don’t cover much dental anyway. So it would’ve been difficult for her anyway,” explained Lampner. “She’s sort of caught in this limbo. The need was critical. We thought she’d be a much different person if we could address this. And the difference it made was a great investment.”
“She’s a much different person now,” added Meszaros.
The enrichment program currently has five participants, with hopes that it will grow.
“We’ve really been excited about the progress — with both Sammy and the program,” she said.
Those who participate in the program can spend the day at the Levin Center in Millsboro and use the center’s movie room and exercise equipment, and spend time in the sensory stimulation room.
“People with autism have a lot of problems with too much sensory materials coming in at the same time. They have to try to integrate it and deal with the sensory input that’s coming in, and try and focus some of it,” explained Meszaros. “They have to really concentrate and not be overwhelmed with the sensory stimulation.
“We have lights and sounds and music, odors — we have lavender essence in there now. We have things for them to touch. That’s what the room does. They get to control the smell, the lights, the sounds… It really helps them get used to controlling the senses.”
Wheelchair-accessible transportation provides a vital link for people with disabilities to connect with their community. The van could transport the people Chimes serves to and from doctor’s appointments, job opportunities, outings at parks and shopping centers or the Rehoboth boardwalk.
Currently, Chimes has brought in more than $2,000 through their fundraising efforts, but they still have a long way to go.
“We were able to secure through the Chimes Foundation, which is a related operation, a commitment for the price of half a large wheelchair van. These are extraordinarily expensive vehicles. They are anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000. When you think of a van, you think of a relatively modestly priced vehicle… These are not,” said Lampner.
“We are committing locally to try and raise half the price of the vehicle. We are trying to do a little bit of crowdfunding. We’ve had some gifts from people, as well. We do have several people here who are in wheelchairs. And having a vehicle be here for this program is semi-critical.”
Along with the enrichment program, the Levin Center serves many people in the Sussex County area with special needs and has grown over its 11 years of service to the area.
“Most of the people we get here are referred to us through the State. They have gone through special education; they’ve completed the Consortium and have aged out of the system at age 21,” she said.
“In some instances people have moved here from other states, and when they moved they brought their family member with a disability with them and have to transfer them to a program down here.
“Many of them spend the rest of their lives in a program like this,” she noted. “Our goal is to help get them as independent and self-sufficient as they can be.”
“It was a very small program originally. When we first opened, there were 10 people. By the time we were ready to move here, we were up to 100 people or more,” said Lampner of the new Millsboro facility. “We’re offering what we can and hoping that it appeals to the family. We look at it as, basically, from the age of 21 on we’re going to provide appropriate day supports.”
One of their most popular programs is their employment service, which, according to their website, is tailored to individuals who have a focus on paid work and employment. Program participants, with staff support, have access to work and career-based assessments, training and job placement opportunities, which are geared to the individual’s aptitudes and interests.
“Everybody who works here or out in the community gets a paycheck,” said Meszaros, noting they have workers who stock at Marshall’s and the HomeGoods stores in Rehoboth, as well as cleaning the J.P. Court building in Georgetown.
“These folks have the potential; it’s just not always tapped,” Lampner said. “These folks are incredibly good employees. I think we all put a value on our jobs, and I think, for them, because they’ve struggled so hard to get to that point, most of them are incredibly motivated.”
Lampner said the program is always seeking work to do and even has a representative out in the community, working with businesses to find work for participants.
“They’re capable of doing all sorts of work,” she said. “We can break it down into enough steps that, with assistance, they can actually make a high-end product. In the beginning, it may be as much as hand over hand — literally, someone taking them over each step, for a more complex task. We do business with an awful lot of businesses around, and we hope people see us as a resource.”
“I was speaking to one gentleman in another program,” she recalled, “and he said he was asked to do something silly and said, ‘I have a disability; I’m not stupid.’ In the coarsest way, they’re going from tax users to tax payers. I think it’s important to them. They have an appreciation of money. I think like programs like ours, and this program particularly, really does help sharpen that sense, an enhanced self-worth.”
Meszaros said that many of those who do piecework, mailings and other jobs gain a sense of worth from being an active contributor to the workforce.
“Part of having autism is routine. They need structure. As long as they have the routine, they do very well. They’re happy. They feel like they’re contributing. They have jobs. They’re making money. They’re doing just what you and I do,” she explained. “Sammy has done shredding for us a few times, and she’s gotten a couple of paychecks, which is kind of amazing. She likes the people. I just think it contributes to the quality of their lives.”
“They have a whole new appreciation of themselves, a whole new level of self-esteem,” Lampner added. “It’s a major improvement in their life. They get a feeling and a sense of themselves that they’re contributing.”
To donate to Chimes, to help pay for the Levin Center’s new wheelchair van, visit www.razoo.com/story/Get-Us-Moving-Wheel-Chair-Van-For-Chimes-Delaware-Mi.... For more information on Chimes, their services or how to get involved, visit, www.chimes.org. The Levin Center is located at 26582 John J. Williams Highway (Route 113), in Millsboro.